it’s all cool stuff, operating from individual (almost) bomb proof hangers called Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS), where the jets would scramble off to fight their pretend wars. As ground crew our jobs in these ‘wars’ was pretty much the same as our normal day jobs…getting the aircraft in the sky, servicing them and fixing them…but with a few more problems raised by the situations of having to think in terms of being at ‘war’ with greater pressures to get the aircraft fixed faster, and operating whilst in pretend chemical or nuclear environments, wearing respirators and ‘Noddy Suits’ and the like…NBC protective suits.
In general though, the people who worked on the squadron knew the HAS site and the hazards in them quite well, although it didn’t stop accidents happening, they were never serious. However, during the exercises we would get extra personnel sent to the site from the rest of the station to act as guards or just to supplement our squadron numbers.
These site guards were often personnel from support trades who would never really get near to aircraft in their normal jobs and so would be very excited to be on the site and in the HAS’s. They would be Suppliers, Cooks, Stewards, Administrative staff and so on. The people whose day jobs wouldn’t really continue in the same way if there was a real ‘war’. These would be given an area to guard and they’d allow us to get on with our jobs and provide security for the site in case of any pretend attacks by enemy – saboteurs or enemy special forces. Often an empty HAS would be given to them for their base for the exercise and they’d basically be left to get on with it, not interacting with us at all.
One exercise we had a badly broken jet. I think it needed an engine change for some reason, and it was decided that it was far too big a job to attempt whilst on exercise. Instead we’d move it to an empty HAS, park it up and leave it there until the exercise was over and then the ‘Sooties’ would be able to do their magic. So a towing team of 5 was put together to move the jet from one HAS to another. In a towing team there is a man to stand on each wing tip to ensure it has clearance for doors and walls, a driver, a supervising Senior, and a man to sit in the cockpit of the aircraft to operate the jets parking brakes.
We arrived in the empty HAS and went to park the jet up. However the guards had set up a rest area just to the back of the HAS where we would park the aircraft. To save time and hassle we decided to park the aircraft slightly forward of the normal stopping chock. This would also help the engine men later when they would need to get their equipment in to change the engine. We set about applying all the protective ‘bungs and blanks’ to the jet, covers over the engine intakes and exhausts as well as plugging up all the smaller holes around the aircraft. As I helped to do this I looked down to notice that one of the guards was sitting asleep just below the taileron of the aircraft.
For those people who don’t know what a taileron is, it’s the ‘mini-wing’ that is at the back of the aircraft just below the fin. It allows the aircraft to go through up and down motion, as well as helps it to turn sharply to the left and right in the sky. I say they are mini-wings, but in reality they are still quite big pieces of metal, a good 6 foot long in width and shaped like a triangle, that are about two inches thick at their leading edge, but taper down to about 5-6mm at their rear edge.
So whilst we were ‘putting the jet to bed’ the guard commander came out of the management office and ticked the young lad awake. ‘You need to get to the Sanger outside HAS 10, right now.’
The lad opened his eyes, nodded quickly and said ‘Yes Serge’. He jumped up on his chair and turned around and went to jump over the back of the chair…except as he jumped forward he suddenly saw the jet that had been parked there whilst he was asleep.
And he didn’t just see the jet. No.
CLANNNNNNNNNNG. The noise echoed round the quiet HAS.
His forehead met the trailing edge of the taileron at a very fast impact speed. The noise was so loud. His bare forehead and the thin metal of the aircraft…there was only one outcome. Blood.
Blood everywhere. he had been moving so fast and was totally unaware of the position of the Tornado and they had come together so quickly that the impact had not cut the lad’s head, he had gone straight down to the bone of his skull and the blood was quite literally pouring out of the lad’s head. The aircraft was, of course, completely un-damaged, however the poor lad was now completely pole-axed and was now flat on his back on the floor, completely out of it.
‘SHIT’ I shouted and jumped down off the jet’s fuselage to go to his aid.
The guard commander however was running back into the management cabin and on the phone in seconds. ‘No duff, no duff…’ he started speaking down the phone. This is the code word to tell people that a real incident had occurred and then went on to ask for medics and an ambulance. People gathered round the lad who was spark-out. One was opening his rucksack for a field-dressing to apply to his head, another was trying to get some response from him.
I ran to the massive hydraulic doors of the HAS to open them in readiness for the ambulance to arrive, and went out to make sure than it would know which HAS to turn up at…which it did a few minute later. The lad, now awake but still off with the fairies had no idea what had happened to him. One minute he was sitting on his chair, the next he was on the floor with blood everywhere and a massive headache.
I hear he made a full and fine recovery, after spending a night in the hospital and getting a fair few stitches across his head…and gaining a really good scar to prove just how dangerous some workplaces can be if you don’t keep your wits about you…